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Postcard from Sudan

July 2009, Sudan, FLT LT Green and participants at Atalgan
FLT LT Ivan Green, NZDF UNMO during a village patrol (WN09-0040-069)

28 July 2009

We are four months into a six month deployment to Sudan and the three members of the NZ contingent on ‘Op Sudden’ are well, and starting to prepare to go home. By the time you read this we will have just over a month before we leave our team site to meet up with the NZ Staff Officer in Khartoum, and start the check-out procedure from the mission.

As I reflect on my time in Sudan, it seems like a blur. The induction training in Khartoum feels like it was only a few weeks ago. However it was in late February and early March when the three of us started the process of checking into the mission. Since then it has been a mix of patrols, meetings, and reports.

The chance to live and work in Sudan and interact with the Sudanese people has been the highlight of the mission. After decades of civil war the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (signed in 2005) brought peace to the country, most of the time. To see people working to make a normal life for themselves and their families and living without the threat of war has been inspiring.

Not that everything has changed; on occasion there is still conflict between Northern and Southern military forces and killings over cattle and tribal origins do occur. This is tragic, however we are seeing a decrease in some of the violence, and there is hope for the future.

As well as interacting with the Sudanese people we have had the opportunity to work with various personnel from the other nations serving in the mission. On our team site alone there has been United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs) from 14 different countries in the time we have been here. That’s a lot of languages to say hello in!!!  On top of that there are the other sections with their own specialist areas, such as disarmament, human rights, electoral matters, gender equality and UN Police, to name a few.

We (the New Zealand UNMOs) are based at a team site in a place called Rumbek. For those interested our exact location is 06o50’'3'N 29o40’413''E .

Now you may think it’s a bit strange to be putting down coordinates to describe a location, but due to a lack of roads and prominent features in our area we use GPS coordinates at lot. We live on the UN camp and our team site has become a little community in its own right, with everyone looking out for each other. Be it going on patrol with electoral personnel or playing volleyball with the Indian signal detachment, the sense of community is everywhere. We are a strange mix of military, police and civilian staff.

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is a bit different from other missions in its structure, with the military reporting to civilians more than normal. A novel position to be in for military personnel! A common sense of purpose and a genuine desire to work collaboratively has meant that this unusual situation is achieving the UNMIS objectives.

You know you’re into the mission proper when everything seems to get a bit easier, when you know who the key people are, military and civilian, and know how to get things done in the most efficient manner. We are now past that point and have moved onto helping new arrivals and taking on leadership roles within the UNMOs.

One thing I have gained from this experience is a whole new appreciation of how we, as New Zealanders, and members of the NZDF, do business. The quality of our training is very good, and this, coupled with a ‘we can do that’, New Zealand attitude, has helped us thrive in this environment. However we couldn’t do what we do here without the support we have received from those back in New Zealand.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say thanks for all the support we have received from family, friends, welfare personnel and from people who don’t even know us. They have provided some great support. A package, a conversation, an e-mail, and Anzac Day messages were all precious connections with home. We appreciate it and will return the favour for others deployed when we get back.

Well that’s all from Sudan other than to say we’ll see you soon!

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